After weeks of games fraught with importance for one reason or another, it’s a little odd to come upon a game like the one Juventus will be playing on Wednesday whose importance is ... indeterminate.
There is technically a chance for Juve to finish first in Group H and avoid what is shaping up to be a stacked seed pot in the Champions League Round of 16 if they beat Malmo. But after the debacle at Stamford Bridge two weeks ago, that chance is now entirely dependent on Chelsea dropping points against Zenit St. Petersburg.
Now, is that impossible? No. We’ve seen before in European competitions that a trip to Russia in the winter can have a strange effect on even the best of teams. But it’s still not an eventuality you’d put serious money on. So, while it’s not a dead rubber, it does kinda feel like one in some respects.
Juve will certainly be going all out to get the win they need to hold up their end of the bargain, and getting it at home is probable. But it’s also likely that Max Allegri will take the opportunity against one of the worst teams in the competition to do some squad rotation and give a few key players some much-needed rest.
That means we could well see key players like Juan Cuadrado and Manuel Locatelli start this game on the bench. It wouldn’t be surprising if someone on the bench equipped with a phone to give Allegri updates on what’s happening in St. Petersburg, and if Chelsea are running away with it it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a couple of young guys get subbed in for the experience.
There’s not much to say regarding Malmo at this point. They’re one of the inferior teams in this year’s Champions League. They just finished a late charge to jump from third to first in the Allsvenskan, but their only point in Europe came two weeks ago against Zenit, when a last-second penalty denied them a win and locked them into the bottom spot in the table.
Simply put, this game should be easy enough for Juventus to win, especially at home, regardless of who plays. If they live up to that and get their part of the equation done, they’ll just have to hope Zenit do them a solid.
- Federico Chiesa and Danilo are still both long-term absences.
- Also out are Mattia De Sciglio and Weston McKennie, although there is hope that both of them will be ready for the weekend against Venezia.
- Aaron Ramsey is injured. In other news: water, wet.
- Mattia Perin is, at the time of writing, still in COVID protocols after contact tracing placed him in close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. This would likely have been an opportunity for him to play, but he may not be available.
- Dejan Kulusevski is out at least the next two games due to surgery to relieve a sinus issue.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
Juan Cuadrado has played a ton of minutes lately. With both Danilo and De Sciglio out, he’s the only player on the senior team that has the ability to play right back. He’s played the last four games there over two weeks and played the full 90 in three of them.
The only time he didn’t complete the game was against Chelsea two weeks ago, when Max Allegri decided to give him a breather for the last 10 minutes, replacing him with Under-23 player Koni De Winter.
The 19-year-old Belgian gave a strong showing during pre-season training, scoring the first goal of the team’s friendly campaign. He’s extremely versatile, having played at both right back, center back, and defensive midfielder over the course of the season in Serie C, where he’s played 12 matches and scored once. His performances have reportedly attracted the attention of Ajax, but Allegri is known to be high on the player.
Whether he ends up stuck in the usual — and often detrimental — cycle of loan upon loan remains to be seen, but the club just signed De Winter to a new deal through 2024, so they clearly like what they see.
Gazzetta dello Sport writer Giovanni Albanese has suggested that Allegri may engage in wholesale rotation, meaning De Winter may get a start to give Cuadrado some much-needed rest. That article could be taken with a slight grain of salt because it also suggests that Matias Soule could get a start, but Soule isn’t eligible to be placed on the B list for the Champions League until the knockout rounds.
Still, De Winter is a sensible bet to at least get a little playing time in this game, and a start shouldn’t be considered out of the question.
When: Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.
Where: Juventus Stadium, Turin, Italy.
Official kickoff time: 6:45 p.m. local Italian time in Italy and around Europe; 5:45 p.m. in the United Kingdom, 12:45 p.,m. Eastern time, 9:45 p.m. Pacific time.
HOW TO WATCH
Television: BT Sport 1 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport Uno, Sky Sport 252, Sky Sport 4K (Italy)
Streaming: Paramount+ (United States); DAZN (Canada); BTSport.com, BT Sport app (United Kingdom); SKY Go Italia, NOW TV, Mediaset Infinity (Italy).
Other live viewing options can be found here, and as always, you can also follow along with us live and all the stupid things we say on Twitter. If you haven’t already, join the community on Black & White & Read All Over, and join in the discussion below.